Army's Round-ups of Youth Continue
By Liza Smith
On October 26, two young men from the small town of San Francisco, Antioquia were in Bogota and fell victim to an illegal street round-up. FOR has brought many delegations to this town, where the Antioquia Peasant Association (ACA), an organization FOR accompanies, works. After the round-up, the young men were taken to Arauca state and incorporated into the military ranks there.
The recruitment of these young men was illegal in three ways. First, they were recruited in a street round-up: a systematic practice of the Colombian army targeting youth who haven’t “resolved their military status,” despite the fact that the Constitutional Court declared them illegal in November of 2011.
Second, they were taken to Arauca. According to Colombian law, new recruits must be trained for a minimum of three months before they can be thrown into a high-risk situation or hot zone, like Arauca.
ACOOC activists demonstrate as youth wait at Army “recruitment day”Third, both of these young men were victims of displacement, which automatically exempts them from their obligatory military service. The military officials insisted they show proof of their status as displaced persons. The young men finally got hold of the required document and in response, were told that because their displacement had occurred more than three years ago, it no longer exempted them from military service.
The ACA contacted FOR with a request to respond to the young men’s situation and press for their release. Working together with the Youth Network and Association of Colombian Conscientious Objectors (ACOOC), FOR contacted a United Nations official, as well as the Army lieutenant in Arauca who was in charge of them. The lieutenant said he knew nothing about their displacement status and that it wasn’t within his purview to resolve their situation.
After over a month of being held at the army base and without any hope of being released, the young men escaped the military complex and showed up in Bogota the following day. Their situation remains precarious.
This is only one of many illegal round-ups carried out by the military recently. ACOOC has documented 16 round-ups since June 2012, affecting approximately 175 youth in the states of Huila, Norte de Santander, Santander, Antioquia, Cundinamarca and in the capital city of Bogota. Since the 2011 Constitutional Court decision that declared street round-ups illegal, the military has developed new practices that are less visibly recognizable as a street round-up, but are in essence the same thing. For example, military officers have taken youth on inter-city buses or made them walk to district offices, instead of loading them onto a military truck. In some cases, the military officers show up at public events such as concerts to grab youth from those places and inquire about their military status.
Conscientious objector groups work to stop these practices, but are also met with challenges. In a recent situation Alejandro Parra, human rights defender and a member of ACOOC, was the victim of aggression while intervening in a street round-up. As he denounced in this statement: “I continued to follow the vehicle, trying to hand out an informative flyer to the young people in the truck, when the truck was passing close to the Immediate Attention Center [run by police] of the Tunnel. I was on the left side of the road, and all of a sudden the truck slammed on its breaks, closing the gap between it and the curb. I had to break and crash my bike into the curb… Because of the impact I fell onto the other side of the road (where there was oncoming traffic). While I got up off the ground, the truck with the military accelerated and those inside laughed and shouted, “that’s what you get for being a rat, good luck asshole!”
FOR is concerned about these events: the illegal recruitment of the youth who were incorporated into the military and then sent to Arauca; the 16 street round-ups throughout Colombia in the past six months; and the military’s treatment of Alejandro who was legitimately observing an illegal practice of that institution.
We will continue to urge the authorities to follow the law when they carry out their recruitment practices and to respect the lives and human rights of young people.